Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Recent Watches: Texas Chainsaw 3D (2013)

Few of the follow-ups to “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” have been good. Most of them haven’t even made that much money. Despite that, Leatherface and his favorite power tool are too iconic to be left alone for long. Platinum Dunes’ last “Chainsaw” movie made well over three times its budget but, as the company had done with other horror properties, they chose to not make anymore and sat on the rights for a few years. As soon as that option lapsed, Liongates and Twisted Pictures – the folks behind the “Saw” movies – scooped up the rights, leading to many puns about the company switching one saw for another. They hoped “Texas Chainsaw 3D” would launch a new series. It didn’t but a few horror fans still found the film to be the best entry in the franchise in years.

Choosing to ignore all prior sequels and remakes, “Texas Chainsaw” opens days after the events of Tobe Hooper’s original movie. After Sally Hardesty made it back to civilization, she told everyone about the cannibal clan in the Texas countryside. The police tried to intervene but not before some good ol’ boys burned the Sawyer home to the ground. Leatherface was thought dead. Some decades later, a girl named Heather receives news that she’s adopted. Her birth parents were part of the Sawyer clan. She’s set to inherent the family mansion. As she drives down with her friends, Heather discovers the mansion isn’t the only thing she’s inheriting. Leatherface lives.

Truthfully, after a nonspecific sequel, a reboot, a remake, and a prequel to the remake, another continuity reset is the last thing the “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” needed. This is clear, as the only thing worse then what Leatherface does to his victims is what this movie does to the series’ timeline. Heather’s actress, Alexandra Daddario, was 26 at the time of filming. One presumes the character is around the same age. If the film is set twenty-some years after the original, that would put the story in the late nineties. Then why do the characters have state of the art cellphones? The filmmakers were apparently aware of this gaff, as they go to great lengths to block any dates. Either way, Leatherface has got to be in at least his sixties by this point. You wouldn’t think he could chase teens the way he used too. He’s awfully spry for a guy his age and size, is the point

The film proclaims adherence to Tobe Hooper’s original but clearly models itself after the remake. It’s hard to believe that the Sawyer family in that original, so poor they had to eat people, could be related to someone who owned a big mansion. Instead, the expansive Hewitt estate seen in the remake is a likelier inspiration. All of the twenty something victims have perfectly sculpted bodies. To prove they’re all former underwear models, they spend a lot of time in their underwear. They’re also all terrible people. Heather’s boyfriend and best friend are sleeping together behind her back. The hitchhiker they pick up is a petty thief. The other friend has stupid ear piercings and listens to terrible music. Despite their L.A. good looks, they’re trashy people. Pretty much everybody in the movie is.

One aspect of the remake series this sequel ditches is the mean-spirited violence. Oh, “Texas Chainsaw 3D” is incredibly gory. Leatherface saws a guy in half right on screen. He smashes a head with a hammer, impales people on hooks, cuts a face off, and chops someone up with a cleaver. The climax has a body torn apart inside a meat grinder. As bloody as these scenes are, the focus on suffering and agony is gone. It’s more like a classic eighties slasher pic, more interested in special effects potential then pain and anguish. It doesn’t reach the grand guignol sick humor of Hooper’s first sequel. But it seems to be reaching for something similar. It’s kind of fun, in a way horror fans may only appreciate.

The whole movie has a similar, sort of goofy Halloween spook show atmosphere. The movie is actually set at Halloween. A notable sequence takes place at a carnival, featuring Leatherface’s quasi-comedic reactions to normal Halloween partiers. The old mansion features a giant iron gate, creepy photographs on the wall, secret rooms, and comically oversized key rings. That brings a certain classical spookiness to the proceedings. Of course, there’s that 3D element too, which manifests in many ridiculous ways. A chainsaw is tossed directly at the camera. While Heather hides inside a casket, Leatherface’s saw buzzes right in her face. Leatherface leaps from the shadows, saw buzzing. (Refreshingly, there’s a lack of obnoxious jump scares.) Not to mention the melodramatic plot, with its birthmarks, dark family secrets, decade old revenge, and angry mobs.

“Texas Chainsaw 3D” is pretty dumb. It’s numerous plot oversights, ridiculous characters, and tacky tone proves that. However, unlike the empty nihilism of the remake, at least the sequel is actually about something. As the lynch mob circles Leatherface’s ancestral home, previously unmentioned members of the Sawyer family arrive to protect him. They all die insuring his safety, burnt or shot. The people who adopt Heather are white trash garbage. Even though she’s never met a Sawyer before, upon arriving at the mansion, she feels an immediate kinship. When she discovers her birth family was murdered, she gets pissed off. She begins the film frightened of Leatherface but, after the killer realizes she’s family, the two start working together. The obvious emerging theme is that blood is thicker. Yeah, it’s ridiculous. But at least the film is trying to do something more then just gross the audience out with graphic murder scenes.

Even that’s not the main reason I like “Texas Chainsaw 3D.” Of all the non-Hooper flicks in the series, this one gets Leatherface the most right. In his old age, Leatherface has basically become a pathetic nerd. He lives at home, in the basement, spending his considerable free time on his hobbies. The film returns the childish element Leatherface had in the original. (He also, pointedly, doesn’t have a facial deformity.) By the end, the redneck mayor and his cronies are beating him with chains, torturing him. Leatherface may be a cannibalistic serial killer but you feel bad for him. When he turns his saw against his tormentors, you cheer. During most long running horror franchises, the audience begins to root for the monster eventually. There’s something perversely amusing about making the brutal slasher more-or-less the hero of the movie. Considering how much personality Leatherface has, I’m surprised it didn’t happen sooner.

“Texas Chainsaw 3D” is a very silly horror film. In many ways, it’s no less crass and pointless then Platinum Dunes’ remakes. Compared to the visceral part one and the inspired gore-comedy of part two, this one comes off as almost embarrassing. Having said that, it’s still more entertaining then any of the other entries in the series. That’s faint praise but, to an old slasher fanatic like me, it counts for something. Despite “Texas Chainsaw 3D’s” uninspiring box office performance, the buzz will naturally be back. A – groanprequel called simply “Leatherface” has been sitting on the shelves for a while now. It remains to be seen if it’ll match the brain dead fun of this one, whenever it’s released. [7/10]

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